Although tooth decay is largely preventable, it remains the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years (21%), and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years (58%), based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) report of 2011-2012, even more common than asthma! The NHANES report also found the prevalence of carious lesions in permanent teeth increased with age. Children in the 9- to 11-year range had higher carious lesion prevalence (29%) compared with children in the 6- to 8-year range (14%). Similarly, children in the 16- to 19-year age range had higher carious lesion prevalence (67%) compared with children in the 12- to 15-year range (50%). We typically recommend sealants at around age six for the first molars and age 12 when the second molars erupt to aid in the prevention of decay during these susceptible years. Some adult caries-prone patients can also benefit from the placement of sealants.
“Sealants are a proven and effective therapy for preventing cavities in children and teens. Oral disease can greatly impact one’s concentration and self-esteem and contributes to more than 51 million hours of missed school each year,” said lead author Timothy Wright, DDS, MS. “The joint report reaffirms that sealants should be a routine part of cavity prevention, as children with sealants are up to 80% less prone to cavities compared to those without them.” A new systemic review and updated clinical practice guideline from the American Dental Association (ADA) and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) show dental sealants are an effective therapy in the fight against childhood dental decay.
What is a sealant? A dental sealant is a thin, plastic coating painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth — usually the back teeth (the premolars and molars) — to prevent tooth decay. In some situations sealants can be indicated for baby molars. Food and debris is trapped on the biting surface of the molars promoting a bacterial biofilm, which increases the risk of developing a cavity. The sealant bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth. Sealants not only prevent new decay but can also stop existing initial decay from developing into a cavity.
Does getting a sealant hurt? No!! The tooth is cleaned, isolated to keep dry, with a gel placed on the chewing surface for 20 seconds. Subsequently the tooth is rinsed and dried with a curing light (similar to the lights you see at some nail salons). It can’t be applied on a smooth surface, so a sealant won’t prevent cavities from forming in between teeth. The sealants we use in the office are BPA-free.
Will a broken sealant make my child’s tooth more cavity prone? Not at all. Parents have questioned about partially lost sealant, in that it may leave sharp margins that trap food and eventually lead to caries. A recent study evaluated if the risk of developing caries in previously sealed teeth with fully or partially lost sealant surpasses the risk in teeth that have never been sealed. It was found that teeth with partial or complete sealant loss are not at any higher risk of developing caries compared to never-sealed teeth. Full retention of sealants is checked visually and clinically at every 6-month check-up.
In summary, sealants are a quick, easy, and painless way to prevent most of the cavities children get in the permanent back teeth, where 9 in 10 cavities occur. Once applied, sealants protect against 80% of cavities in children ranging in age from ages 5 to 19. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office!